Thursday, November 01, 2007

Perception and Reality

Decades ago, my young family and I were on a little holiday in upper New York State with my parents. I'm not sure why or exactly where, but we found ourselves in a mall.

I think we were contemplating life over ice cream cones when I saw a man holding hands with a teenage girl. I thought how nice it was to see a father and a daughter of that age holding hands. Within a second or so, I was shocked to hear my mother exclaim her disgust at the very same sight. Her interpretation: a dirty middle-aged man was involved with a pretty young thing.

We had both seen the same thing but, without thinking deeply, leapt to radically different conclusions. I rather suspect that I was right, but admit that there's a small chance that she was. There was no use discussing it with her though because her mind was made up. Actually, I was too flabbergasted to pursue it with her at all — then or ever.

We tend to blame people such as my mother who see the world negatively, but I suppose that in a very real sense they can't help it. I also suppose, however, that some negatively-inclined folk might become disposed to work on how they perceive the world. I do believe that, with therapy or even personal recognition of their propensity towards negativism, there are those who would choose make an effort to alter their perceptions. Such possibilities would have been beyond my mother, but I remain optimistic that some can and do change.

Nevertheless, I think it's also true that we all have natural dispositions, and while some of us tend to view the world through rose-coloured glasses, others see it as a threatening place. And I don't know why that is. Is it simply nurture? Is it upbringing that changes people? But don't we find that siblings from the same family may view the world differently? I know that even siblings closely related in years are not brought up exactly the same way, but surely it can't be all that different either. Or can it?

Nature and nurture. Who can figure it out?

Meanwhile, I think I'll continue to enjoy my somewhat more positive way of looking at the world. I may not exactly be wearing rose-coloured glasses, but at least I tend toward the positive. I think that's good because they say that perception is reality after all.

With a nod to Pearl of Humanyms. This memory and these futile musings were triggered by her account of her and her mother reacting very differently to a situation.


Ginger said...

Great post. You'll have me thinking on that one today.

I, too, am glad that I tend to have a positive outlook on the world.

KGMom said...

AC--this post will make an excellent example when I am teaching about how our filters color what we view. Students tend to think there is only one way to view things. This example demonstrates otherwise.

Dale said...

I once heard a story about a woman on a crowded elevator. A man stood close behind her and three or four times, touched her in a way she felt was inappropriate. She found herself getting more and more upset, but didn't react immediately. Instead, she made up her mind to confront him as she left the car.
By the time she'd reached her floor, the woman was livid. When the doors opened, she stepped off and turned only to discover the man was blind. His behaviour had been completely accidental and innocent.
The story ends there. But what about the woman? Was she still angry?


thailandchani said...

I think a lot of this has to do with environment. One of my greatest challenges here is to stay positive... whereas I have no trouble staying positive in Thailand.

In other words, I'm not convinced that we can simply *choose* a certain perception if what surrounds us defies it.

Just a random thought.


Coll said...

I too believe that we are born with certain characteristics and thought patterns that for the most part are innate. But I also believe in "light bulb" moments that do occur and can be both life and thought changing. I guess the main thread here is that, if change is to happen and be incorporated into one's personality, it has to be a personal choice of action and rarely occurs as a result of another's wishes.
Interesting and thought provoking topic.

Ginnie said...

This made me think of the time I was at a conference and the speaker opened his talk by saying, "I know what I am going to say...but I don't know what you are going to hear". It always amazes me how differently people can percieve things.

Pam said...

I'm inclined to believe that, to some degree, it's nature. Not that nurture doesn't affect us, it does, but I think that there are certain characteristics that come with the original package.

Valerie - Still Riding said...

Loved this post, Anvil. I wrote about it recently. Perspective changes, especially sudden ones, can really "make the light go on". I have had a few this year.

So do you believe it when you see it or see it when you believe?

That one has me thinking.

I have found that when I expect the best out of people that is what I get.

Nature or nurture we all see it individually.

Grass reflects the color green from the light spectrum because it can not absorb and use it. It is "not green". Grass is using every color but it green or is it rainbow hues and we can only see the green because of the way our eyes work?

Have fun with that one, too.

Cathy said...

Interesting, AC. Who can say? But we may as well reach for the rose-colored glasses and adjust them to our eyes as best as possible.
(I'm afraid my bias leans heavily towards nature)

Gina said...

I try to be rosy, but my natural disposition tends to be a bit more pessimistic.

And, I was wondering if you would remember the shower posts you did. And you did!

cat59 said...

Hmmm. . .the old nature vs. nurture. Probably more accurately nature and nurture. BTW, I love Smudge's little pumpkin butt!

Pearl said...

Glad it twigged something.

That's just the sort of way my mom would have taken the same scene.

What can you do when you live in a shoe my aunt would reply.

Love Ginnie's addition. "I know what I am going to say...but I don't know what you are going to hear". Exactly.